Happy 10th birthday, WALL-E

2018 sees a lot of huge movies hit some significant milestones, so what better way to celebrate than to talk about a few of them here.

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Back in 1994, a conversation took place between Pixar giants John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Joe Ranft and Andrew Stanton to plan out the studio’s future productions post-Toy Story. It was a brainstorming that would conceive Monsters, Inc.Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life, and lastly a movie about a robot left alone on Earth. Nearly 15 years later Pixar would finally release WALL-E and change the direction of their output entirely.

For the uninitiated, WALL-E tells the story of the eponymous robot, a sentient waste allocation unit that just happens to be left completely alone on Earth. Humanity has abandoned it after trashing the planet entirely, and the only things that can now live there are robots and cockroaches. Pretty heavy stuff for a U certificate movie, no?

That description alone sets WALL-E apart from the Pixar movies that came before it, and the movie never really eases up as its story unfolds. It’s definitely more of a social commentary than a rip-roaring adventure, and while WALL-E gives us a lot of action and entertainment at face value, there’s a lot more to be taken from it once you scratch the surface. One could even go so far as to say it’s an anti-Disney movie; despite the happy ending it tackles some heavy concepts for the kids – not to mention it’s pretty anti-corporation and consumerism throughout. A ballsy move for a big studio production.

At the heart of what makes WALL-E work is a great central character to ground these lofty themes. The little waste robot has no decipherable lines beyond a word or two, and huge chunks of the movie are silent with just him around to do his thing. That can sound like a bit of an uphill struggle to get on board with – especially when trying to find a film to entertain a whole family – thankfully we’re offered a masterclass in expression in the design and animation of WALL-E. Combined with Ben Burtt’s excellent sound work, it’s hard to not root for the little droid from the get-go.

What’s more, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Pixar somehow managed to make the apocalypse look beautiful; you’ll never see a more beautiful skyscraper of garbage and I’ll put money on that. The sequences in space, most notably the dance between WALL-E and EVE – his lady-robot-friend – still haven’t been topped for me as a work of animation. The stark contrast between the polluted Earth and the pristine spacecraft later in the film really brings the movie’s themes home, too.

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Of course, WALL-E isn’t a perfect movie. While 99% of the movie is visually stunning, the human characters just don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie. It’s a strange thing to say for an animated feature, but they end up looking more cartoonish than what the rest of the film was going for.
The movie seems to struggle a bit under the weight of a feature length running time, and it may have been better suited as a shorter film – possibly even a short. It’s the same issue with Up, in that they had a really fantastic story in the beginning of the film, the heights of which the rest of the movie never quite matches.

WALL-E is not the best Pixar film; there were and are better movies before and after it. The reason we’re talking about it after 10 years though, is that it marks the point that animation blockbusters started to grow up. That said, the same year we had releases such as Kung-Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa which showed there was still a way to go, but it was a noticeable shift towards a trend of these family movies having more to say than a fart joke or two. Well, until Despicable Me came along and ruined it all over again.

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